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MADISON, Wis. – France, Russia and Germany aren’t the only ones trying to play a rebuilding role in Iraq, the World Council of Credit Unions hopes to as well. In fact, WOCCU is gearing up to possibly take a role in helping to rebuild financial services in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The international credit union developer and advocate already has an application pending with the U.S. government to begin basic credit union development in Afghanistan, and is poised to apply for a similar role in Iraq. Kim Johnston, marketing officer for WOCCU confirmed that the organization stands ready to put forward a proposal for credit union development in Iraq when and if funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development becomes available. The organization’s application to conduct a pilot credit union project in Afghanistan involves working at a very basic level to start credit union services. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq have an existing credit union system, she added. WOCCU generally does not announce applications for funding because there is no guarantee the group will get them and there is no use in getting people excited about something that might not happen, she explained. She also explained that WOCCU is reticent to go public with the details of a proposal because, as part of the proposal process, the donor often comes back to the applicant with changed parameters for the project. “If we announced a figure there is a chance the number might be changed in the end,” Johnston said. She said that the U.S. government has not requested any programs for Iraq yet; but that the group had begun to lay some of the groundwork for one should such a request come. While Iraq has no direct history of credit unions, the country does have a history of using financial cooperatives to attain common financial ends, a U.S. official explained. The official would not comment for the record about the prospects of a specific request for help from WOCCU, but he admitted that the U.S. would, in the long term, focus on all parts of Iraqi public life, including financial services. He could not put a timetable to when the agency might request proposals and pointed out that the scope of U.S. work in Iraq had yet to be decided at the political level. Before the administration starts putting any policies into place it has to have political agreement with the Congress as to what the policy should be and how many resources can be used on it, he said. He contrasted the recent contract the U.S. government had granted to San Francisco-based Bechtel for some work in Iraq. That contract was a different matter, the official explained, because it covered engineering and rebuilding efforts in Iraq on things like physical infrastructure. “Somebody has to repair the damaged roads and clear waterways of mines,” he said. “That is the more essential agenda.” Johnston explained that the group’s work in the two war-torn societies, if it happens, will be a little different because the U.S. has been involved in such a direct way with the social and political change in those nations. However she added that it represented a continuation of an ongoing relationship credit unions have had with development efforts around the world. WOCCU has had a 30-year relationship with USAID, she explained, and has relationships as well with institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as well. In 2002, WOCCU had over $42 million in its portfolio for international development projects. Often WOCCU’s efforts to develop credit unions around the world involve the group in a variety of activities which can seem, on the surface, only distantly related to credit unions, Johnston explained. She cited WOCCU’s efforts to help build financial services in African societies with populations severely stricken with HIV (see related story on this page). A meeting between USAID officials and WOCCU executives in early May discussed efforts to further international remittances, how to use credit unions in undeveloped nations to further savings based investing and international development problems in rural finance. [email protected]

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